The Invasion of France Behind Enemy Lines
By Laura Ymker
It was finally D-Day, June 6, 1944. Every day for the last six months, the Allies had prepared for the invasion. A large part of their energy had gone into Operation Bodyguardâ€”the overall plan for deceiving the Germans about the Alliesâ€™ plans for the invasion of France. American, French, and British intelligence worked together to cover up the evidence of the planned attack. This was not a small undertaking because an army the equivalent of every man, woman, child, and vehicle in Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, was to be moved over the English Channel overnight. Once the army was over the Channel, the invasion would have to face a growing number of German troops gathering from various parts of France. Any obstacles placed in the path of the Germans on the way to the beach would gain the Allies crucial time to put more troops ashore and push farther inland. The task of delaying the Germans was given to the British and American air forces and to the British, American, and French shadow armies in France.
What role the French Resistance was to play in this drama was an area of tension among the Allies. Some members of the high command doubted the loyalty of the French Resistance members; others, such as General Eisenhower, expected large contributions from the French. Final decisions on how the French would participate in Operation Overlord, the invasion of the continent, were not made until April, 1944.
The Resistance in France had been operating since the beginning of the German occupation. Membership in the Resistance varied widely from right-winged nationalists to communists. Its numbers increased rapidly when in early 1943, the Germans issued a draft for forced labor. Many thousands of young men fled to the mountains in Southern France to escape the draft. There they acquired the name maquis from a type of brush that grew in the area. Daniel Funk, an artillery mechanic with the U.S. Armyâ€™s 28th Infantry Division, described one such young man:
His name was Francois Darville. I never knew what happened to him, never seen him since. But we were staying in his fatherâ€™s barn. That is how I got to know him. I met him about three times over there. He had run away from the Germans. He was in the unoccupied section of France, hiding to keep from getting conscripted into the German army. He was twenty-two years old. (In) his group, he said, there was like twenty-five of them. I couldnâ€™t get too much information from him because I didnâ€™t speak French too well. The only thing I knew about what they were doing (was) they were just trying to disrupt the Germans as much as possible. They were blowing up bridges [and] passing on information to the American army that they would come across.
The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) had been assisting the Resistance since 1940. In 1943, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) joined the SOEâ€™s effort. Together they dropped weapons, explosives, liaison personnel, and weapon instructors to the Resistance. In April of the same year, Mike Rowlandson of the SOE and Franklin Canfield of the OSS suggested dropping teams of men into France to hinder the German defense. Each team would consist of an American or British officer, a French officer and a radioman. All the men would be dropped into France in the uniform of their country. It was hoped that the uniformed men would boost French morale. The uniforms would also legally require them to be treated by the terms of the Geneva Convention if they were captured by the Germans. The teamâ€™s task would be to organize, arm, and train the local Resistance fighters for action for when they were called upon by the Allies to rise against the Germans en masse. This plan, known as Operation Jedburgh, was submitted to authorities for approval. The head of the OSS, William Donovan, fully supported the operation. However, other high commanders did not have as much faith in the plan, and Jedburgh was not approved by high command until July 1943.